No Ferry, now what?
Trip Start Jul 02, 2007
30Trip End Sep 04, 2007
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Around every bend was another waterfall with names that described the falls perfectly like Horsetail Falls or Bridal Veil Falls. Glaciers were everywhere. Ho hum, just another glacier surrounded by pristine, wilderness. This land is unbelievable.
My stop in Haines was supposed to be short. I was there to catch the ferry to Sitka where I had some folks to visit. My sister-in-law Lisa has a friend named Lisa who moved to Sitka. Lisa and I had talked and she was excited to have me stay with her and to show me around Sitka.
I woke up the next morning, packed up the car and got ready to leave only to find out the ferry was canceled
But I still needed to get to Juneau. I could wait for Columbia to be repaired or drive to Skagway, a five hour drive that would take me back to Whitehorse. I did not want to drive but I love Whitehorse. So I decided to leave the next morning for Whitehorse. In the meantime, a guy I'd met the night before told me over beers about a pilot in Haines who took people on incredible tours of Glacier Bay. I decided to go flying!
Drake is a small man with long graying hair that hangs past his shoulders. His plan is a single propeller blue plane that holds four people. The wings sit on top of the fuselage making it easier to see the terrain beneath. A couple was also flying with Drake today. As we talked, I learned that Barry was learning to be a pilot and her husband used to fly jets in Vietnam and was an instructor
We clambered in the plane, Maverick and I squeezing into the two back seats and Barry excitedly inspecting the gauges from the co-pilots spot. With music blasting in our headsets, Drake taxied and took off veering towards Glacier Bay. From the air, you can truly appreciate Alaska. How can any one walk over those peaks and cross those glaciers? Drake banked over glaciers dotted with brilliant blue pools of water, soared over craggy peaks, dipped sharply to slip into a pass then dove down to show us some mountain goats he spotted below. In the sharp banking turns Drake flew, I sometimes felt we were going to clip the tips with the plane's wings. I leaned right as the left wing dropped down so far I could see the ground perfectly out my side window. The other three all leaned left into the banking turns like you do on a motorcycle. You could tell I was not a pilot.
Drake talked about flying. "The air is like water. It has currents and eddies. You just can't see it. You have to feel it." Then he spotted a snow-covered saddle between two peaks. "Hey, I've landed there!" he exclaimed. "How to you take off again?" Barry asked, "It's so short." "You just get going and fall off the other side." Drake explained. "Let me show you." He dove towards the saddle, skimming low over the snow. For a few seconds I held my breath and thought he was going to really land and show how he takes off but he pulled up and said, "See, you land right there then roll off this side." Barry loved it. I was still holding my breath not because I was scared though. I thought if I held my breath maybe I wouldn't get sick
"How you doing Laura," Drake asked. "Just don't make me sick," I finally confessed turning the little semi-circular air vent so cold air blasted on my face. Maverick looked at me for a long second. Then Drake spotted a bear. "A bear," he yelped. Barry saw it. Maverick saw it. "I didn't see him," I said. "Want to go back and look?" Drake asked. "Uh, no..." I muttered knowing another look would mea another diving, banking, green-making maneuver, "Not really." Maverick smiled at me and told Drake, "Go easy on Laura."
I made it back to the runway without losing my breakfast but with my head spinning and my stomach churning. "I paid money for this." I thought to my self as I walked slowly and carefully to the hanger. I sat on a stump, happy to not be moving while Maverick told Drake stories of buzzing under bridges and running F-4s through the Grand Canyon, all the crazy stuff he and his buddies got away with in the service. "Ugh," was all I could think of as I thought about it.
Despite my queasiness, I'm glad I went up with Drake. He flies to the places other pilots don't. Most flightseeing trips take tourists up the main glacier arm and back. I got to see glaciers and mountains and brilliant blue pools and fly with one of the best Alaska bush pilots. Seeing Alaska from the air brings home how large the state really is and why people say that to see the real Alaska, you've got to get out in the bush on foot, in a kayak, on a river raft, on skis, or by dogsled. I'll be back-to be discover more of the real Alaska. Alaska truly is the last frontier.
(I'd love to share photos with you, but unfortunately my camera was stolen in Whitehorse and I had not yet uploaded the flight photos. Grrrr. Oh well, life goes on.)